The other day, after Rihanna's new video for "Pour It Up" came out (embedded below, NSFW), we started chatting about it on Twitter. There was too much to say. Here, we discuss why Rihanna is better than Miley, why Rihanna is better than Nicki, and why Rihanna is better than Jesus.
This conversation took place in a Google Hangout and has been condensed and edited.
Sarah Nicole Prickett: Hii, does this work?
Ayesha Siddiqi: Yes! I see you both on here.
SNP: So this Rihanna video is AMAZING, but let's start from Instagram. Riri’s instagram is how I know she's a girl's girl and it's why I love her. When I started following her it was because she was posting all half-naked selfies, piles of weed, cash, hotel rooms, and highlighted Bible passages (for real). I was telling Ayesha how bad I wish I could find this one photo of her with three other girls on motorbikes in a parking lot. The Real Spring Breakers.
Susan Elizabeth Shepard: Whereas I would think, "Oh, god, Rihanna takes pictures in the strip club, how rude." But I quickly was schooled that in black strip clubs, there is NOTHING like the prohibition on photography that there is in white/mixed clubs. But I'll say up front that I don't follow her on Instagram, nor am I a fan. I have always been low-grade annoyed by her songs, which I hear daily. I can still tell you where I was the first time I heard "SOS" and was like "ugh, irritating."
SNP: Really?? Where were you, Susan?
SES: ON A POLE, DUH.
SNP: Because I remember being in j-school in Toronto and completely adoring "SOS," but I get it (I think?). Rihanna's songs are meant to make mall girls feel like strippers. If you’re already a stripper, they’re redundant.
AS: Susan, I thought the same thing, I went from irritated by her music, to indifferent, to into it just because of her personal brand.
SNP: Which actually brings me to a good point: I am way more interested in realness than truth. Also money, not power.
AS: OK, those are interesting distinctions. How do you think one outweighs the other? Is realness just authenticity anyone can appreciate, whereas truth is subjective to each person?
SNP: So there's money, then power, then, ultimately, class. Class is the least revocable of the three. And to answer your question, Ayesha, about realness and truth, I think, sure, authenticity is contiguous with experience, and I think of realness as experiential. Maybe meaningful. Truth as ideological. To be very simplistic for starters. I think Rihanna is classy as fuck, but I love her because she does not aspire to class.
AS: I'm with you so far.
SNP: And I feel like Rihanna has solidarity. Maybe that's too wishful/ cheesy/ "nice" to say, but I felt like she had (this word again!) a basic respect for bitches who get their own. It wasn't "look at them"; it was "look at us, we out here," etc… Am I wrong?
SES: It does feel like that.
AS: I've been thinking about how she went from dance music popstar to this irrevocably bad bitch (not always mutually exclusive). And on the way there was this turn towards hyper-sexual aggression that I always interpreted as a way to buck the victim narrative she found herself in after Chris Brown. Now she's settled in this really affirmative (for her fans and certainly for herself) self love femme power icon status thats wholly independent of men in the equation.
SES: Yeah, and the exclusion of men in the presentation is baller.
SNP: Yes. Also she shot a man, don't forget. Like, in the “Man Down" video. In “Pour It Up” it feels like she shot ALL THE MEN.
SES: Like "still got my money" is exactly the opposite of the guy spending it all at the club.
SNP: Rihanna is both Stripper and Customer: DISCUSS.
SES: Rihanna would rather be tricking than being a trick.
AS: It goes back to the money/ power/ agency. She doesn’t buy into traditional gender roles of music. She is having her cake and eating it too, omg.
SES: CAKE CAKE CAKE. She also doesn't even want to use the actual money that we use and MADE HER OWN [as in, printed her own Rihanna dollars for the video]. I just hope people realize how unusual this video is. Or that they don't at all, and just feel vaguely unsettled. Do y'all think she consciously said "this video will have no men" or was she not even thinking of that, thinking, "this video will be me and two badass strippers"?
SNP: I don't think she thought about men. Usually she works with Anthony Mandler on her videos; for this one she hired a new guy. And (did you get that link I emailed you?) they fought over "creative differences.” My guess, because I’ve known enough guys in my life, is he thought the video was too raunchy, not "tasteful" enough. Almost every guy I’ve slept with has watched “safer” porn than I do.
So, this director tweeted "Rihanna fans, I'm no longer working on this video, I took my name off the project.” And she writes back, "you can take your name off the check." I MEAN. This is the first Ri video with not only no men in the video but also no man's name on the video.
SES: How long did it take y'all to realize it was dude-free? I mean once I got to the last :30 or so I was like, "oh, please, let it remain so."
AS: I don't know, it was the way the strippers were filmed: very clearly displaying their athleticism and dance skill for their own sake, not to titillate an audience (and there wasn't one in the world of the video).
SNP: Yeah, I kept waiting for the moment when she walks out like the Marchesa de Casati with two men instead of leopards on leashes. You know—that Beyoncé-type moment, that Britney moment, from "Run the World" and "Work Bitch," respectively. It's also a Madonna thing, and Gaga. Everyone's doing this S&M fauxpowerment shit, and Rihanna's like, nah, I’m chill.
The achievement is not to dominate men, but simply to not need them in order to succeed, feel good, have a good time, etc. She gets on the stripper pole herself. I feel like Rihanna could strip.
SES: She looks just like a baby stripper.
AS: I completely agree with the idea of her solidarity. That’s what brought me on board with her, and that’s what makes her different in a way from Nicki Minaj: being a girl’s girl versus being one of the guys.
SES: Mm hmm. In the "Beez In The Trap" video, Nicki positions herself as a customer. She’s gazing at the strippers, not identifying with them. Rihanna aligning herself with the strippers instead of the customers is a pretty powerful image.
AS: Nicki leans in.
SNP: I was thinking about Nicki. Her crew is pretty male.
AS: And so is the way she talks about other women. And Nicki is in competition with other girls, she made it. They didn’t. Sucks to their assmar.
SNP: But I was looking more so at the all-female videos done by Beyoncé, then Britney, and so on. They're not the opposite, but the videos you get from Kid Sister and Angel Haze offer up a very different portion of the power spectrum.
I don't think girls totally dress for other girls—in my world, at least—but we learned to dance for other girls, for sure. The way girls dance in circles at the club is so (and I rarely use this word so I'm allowed!) POWERFUL.
SES: The Power Of Cockblocking.
AS: I think to be a fan of Nicki you have to identify with her, while to be a fan of Rihanna you're a fan of yourself.
SNP: Are you paraphrasing Kanye? Yeah. Selfie love forever.
AS: Right, it's about solidarity, female power, selfie love.
AS: Nicki is about winning the boys game, which I'd argue is much lonelier. Rihanna changes the game (ew, cliche, but whatever).
SNP: Which I do appreciate, and it's important here to note the differences between rap game and pop game. The rap game is a boys' game, still, but the pop game is a girls' game... forever?
AS: Exactly. Nicki sticks to the framework of the patriarchy.
SES: Ah, I think you hit the nail on the head. Presenting power as acting like a man versus power as being a woman. Winning the game versus rejecting it.
SNP: Rihanna's thing is, "I am pure girl-id, deal with it."
AS: It's definitely worth comparing pop and rap here: I think you're right, pop allows greater leverage to write the rules as a woman than the rap game does, especially if you're a rapper whose success was tied as much to cosigns from males as your own talent. Like, Nicki can outrap men, but the men had to allow her to join them in the first place. I'm thinking of Lil Wayne here and how much Nicki’s constantly recognizing his role in her career.
SNP: Look at the new A$AP video for "Fashion Killa." It’s Rihanna and the boys, but she's not one of them. Instead, A$AP becomes under her seductive tutelage a sort of slightly embarrassed but mostly chill Young-Girl. Like, I swear, in the magazine shop, he picks up a copy of RUSSH.
AS: Same with Drake in "Take Care"?
SNP: Yeah! The boys are shopping with her; they're not bored outside the change room. Drake and A$AP get credit for this, too, of course. They’re generationally and otherwise distinct from Lil Wayne, their sexualities much more fluid (perhaps politically so, probably not), probably adaptive to the commercial reality.
AS: Nicki's songs are largely about her ability to service men's sexual needs, and her body's condition to do so ("million-dollar pussy" is not for self love but to outmarket other women and win the male rapper's attention). Ri stays singing about her sexual needs and demanding they get fulfilled, and then she'll ponder whether or not she's even interested in the dude.
SNP: Nicki's like Kelis in that way—and you don't blame Kelis, living in a Nas world, at the time, maybe. But how great to see Rihanna bringing all the girls to yard. Finally.
SES: There's something there that calls back to early demanding female blues singers, too.
SNP: And in a way different way than Bey, who's who I wanna talk about again: Bey and Brit, "Girls Run the World" and "Work Bitch.” Lean In vs. LEAN BACK?!
SES: Maybe it's the idea of changing receptiveness from weakness to strength? Getting it. Getting laid, getting sexual satisfaction.
AS: Oh, so the ability to recognize her sexual needs? I think for this "day and age," singing about wanting to have sex is like, OK, cool. But singing it in a way that validates all women rather than casting them as losers in the market for male attention—that’s what makes Rihanna compelling.
SES: Basically, that you don't have to act like a guy or fuck like a guy to be "strong."
AS: Totally. It’s the opposite of “I’m not like other girls.”
SNP: Rihanna is one of them [the stripping women] in this video. The choreography and camera work make it so you really can't tell who's who, sometimes, and I think that's the point; the video is almost perspectiveless.
SNP: It’s been in the creeps of my mind this whole time, how we're gonna get in trouble for being sex-uncritical here. Sex is itself both positive and negative, always give, take, take from, taken from..
AS: That’s how I feel about the whole "sex positive/negative" thing—it's crude and simplistic.
SES: I'm happy to go on the record with "people are allowed their feelings about sex,” but also, I think sex is incredibly important and awesome, and that it is never ever a negative to know what you like and to be assertive about asking for it. And that there is no net negative to having more women say so loudly, publicly, in accessible forms.
SNP: There's no tax on sex, and it doesn't kill you. How is that not a massive social good?!
AS: Really feeling what you're both saying and it's a shame how radical it sounds compared with *gestures towards surrounding earth*.
SNP: It can be both that Rihanna has to do this to reach a certain stratosphere of fame (and income) and that Rihanna wants to and enjoys doing it. I don't think Rihanna is out to shock. Shock is a thing on the skin, over in a second. Rihanna's veins are electric. I saw a flash of her outside a fashion show in the flesh once. Granted, next to the majority of fashion people a blow-up doll could look alive. But she seemed to sweat jouissance.
SES: Ayesha, that quote about the female narcissist that you tweeted. Is this even narcissism?
AS: The word 'narcissist' gets a bad rap. To be a female narcissist is an act of political defiance comparable to not being humble as a person of color. It’s about preserving your dignity in a world where you're constantly told you aren’t shit and are expected to act accordingly.
SNP: Maybe I think of narcissism more classically. Being in love with your own image.
SES: Sure! Loving yourself. Who among us would not have sex with ourselves, after all.
SNP: But the narcissist will change her look to keep herself self-interested, to not get bored. And Rihanna's really a master chameleon, which reminds me that being a chameleon is an ultimate survival skill. But should we talk about chameleons? Or mermaids? Azealia Banks is a mermaid, and so was Anais Nin. “I must have been a mermaid… I have no fear of depths, but a great fear of shallow living.” That's Anais.
SES: The water in "Pour It Up" reminded me of how hostess clubs/ strip clubs are the "water trade" in Japan, and how water signifies money—and sex, especially female sexuality. I mean, if this were a Kanye video, people would be like, "He's walking on water. He's Jesus."
Perhaps Rihanna is the real messiah.
SNP: Who wouldn't rather be Mary Magdalene?
AS: MM was never once called a prostitute in the bible.
SNP: Speaking of MM and her perfume, how amazing is it when Rihanna talks about her branded perfume in "Pour It Up" and she says, "they love my smell." It's so perverse and delicious.
AS: Totally, and the way she says it. So much relish.
SES: We should buy it, and order pairs of Rihanna's money-print pleasers.
SNP: Umm, yes.
Susan Elizabeth Shepard has two jobs and lives in Austin, TX.